An unhappy marriage leads to depression

What To Do When Your Unhappy Marriage Leads To Depression

Depression affects 1 in 6 people at some point in their lives. And it affects every aspect of their lives. If an unhappy marriage leads to depression in one spouse, the marriage itself is considered depressed. In an indirect way, depression is actually contagious.

Because depression in marriage can be caused by emotional distancing, avoidance, withdrawal, power imbalance, or inappropriate venting of anger, learning and practicing effective communication and conflict resolution skills is an essential first step to lifting the depression…and the marriage itself.

While the blessings of marriage include companionship, intimacy, stability, and family, living in a close relationship with another human being can be challenging, especially when people bring emotional baggage and unfinished business from their families of origin. Disappointment, strife, turmoil, conflict, and anger often lead to depression because couples lack the communication and conflict resolution skills to move beyond the negativity and helpless feeling.

What is depression in an unhappy marriage?

Knowing what to do when an unhappy marriage leads to depression necessitates an understanding of what depression is.

Everyone goes through periods of sadness and grief. But depression lingers, worsens if left untreated, and can diminish a person’s self-esteem.  It infiltrates every corner of the depressed person’s life, and impacts sleep, social life, and interest in enjoyable activities. At its worst, depression can rob a person from feeling a sense of purpose and even the will to live.

What causes depression in a marriage?

In circumstances when an unhappy marriage leads to depression, one cause can be an unhealthy dominant-submissive relationship pattern. In such marriages, one person takes a dominant, controlling position and the other person assumes, inevitably, a one-down, submissive role. The powered-over spouse is most vulnerable to depression.

A powered-over spouse feels dominated, powerless and “smaller” in the relationship. They feel criticized, put-down, and bossed around and controlled by their partner. At the most extreme end of the continuum of dominant-submissive patterns is a relationship marked by abuse in all its forms (emotional, verbal, physical, sexual). If you are a victim of abuse, please seek immediate professional help to secure your safety and well-being.

Unresolved negative feelings and conflict play a central role in depressive reactions.

Spouses in marriages with a lot of tension and discord are 10-25% more likely to experience depression than people who are unmarried or those in relationships with effective communication and problem solving skills. And if the fighting is ongoing, so is the depression.

But when improvements are made in the marriage — how the spouses communicate, how they equalize their roles — guess what? Depressive symptoms improve, as well.

So if your unhappy marriage leads to depression, what can you do about it?

Because depression in marriage can be caused by emotional distancing, avoidance, withdrawal, power imbalance, or inappropriate venting of anger, learning and practicing effective communication and conflict resolution skills is an essential first step to lifting the depression…and the marriage itself.

Here are some steps to take if you or your spouse (and therefore your marriage) are depressed.

  • Pay attention to the clues.

Timing is important in treating depression. Any lingering sadness, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, isolating and/or hints of suicidal ideation should be taken seriously. Be aware of small changes, as depression isn’t always easy to recognize, especially in its early stages.

  • Figure out the root cause of the unhappiness.

It’s important to know if there are any other factors — internal or external — that could be influencing your depression, and therefore your marriage. Body chemistry, genetics and medical issues can all play a behind-the-scenes role in depression.

  • Open up a conversation.

Talk with your partner about your feelings and concerns. If your marriage is in a state of high tension or the dominance-submissiveness is severe, you may have greater success in the presence of a counselor. No matter what, don’t allow the depression “monster” to continue wreaking havoc with you, your spouse or your marriage.

  • Bring in a pro.

When an unhappy marriage leads to depression, the solution isn’t a two-point straight line. There are multiple people (including, perhaps, children) who are affected and affecting.

Because power imbalance is often at the root of depression in marriage, intervention by an objective professional is needed to help a couple create a more egalitarian relationship.

Finding the right therapeutic fit is essential to ensuring that both parties are motivated to work toward a solution and feel emotionally safe doing so.

Working with a married counseling team can do wonders for balancing the energy of gender differences and power struggles. And intensive marriage retreats can provide an ideal format for learning and practicing collaborative problem-solving for expedited results.


Anyone who suffers from depression knows, on a very deep level, that depression is a thief of vitality. It pervades everything, impedes everything, diminishes everything. It’s even worse when an unhappy marriage leads to depression because the assumed well-spring of blessing and support is now the antagonist itself. Indeed, this dynamic sets up a complex and elusive downward spiral.

In order for a marriage to thrive, it has to be built on a foundation of power sharing and mutual respect. A spouse who is “powered-over” is automatically at a higher risk of becoming depressed. And once depression takes up residence in one spouse, it takes up residence in the marriage and family.

The conversion of a marriage marked by power imbalance to a more collaborative framework has proven benefits for lessening depression from an unhappy marriage. Research shows that power sharing together with effective communication and conflict resolution skills create happier, more satisfying marriages and that happily married people tend to have lower rates of depression.

We help couples build strong, stable relationships by teaching communication and problem solving skills, and designing more collaborative relationships. If your unhappy marriage leads to depression, our intensive marriage counseling retreat can help shift the dynamic to support a happier, more satisfying relationship. Contact us for a complimentary telephone call.


Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats